LI caterers expect sales boost for New Year's

Pastry cook Mike Romano and head pastry chef Pastry cook Mike Romano and head pastry chef Diane Segreto work in the kitchen of Verace in Islip as they prepare New Year's Eve desserts. (Dec. 30, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

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The recession may have permanently put a damper on opulent New Year's Eve parties, but several Long Island businesses catering to these holiday celebrations are expecting their sales to be the same or higher from this year's festivities.

"Despite the recession, people have the money and are being more selective about when they're going to spend it, but I think they will spend it on the holidays," said Stewart Weiner, general manager of Danfords Hotel & Marina in Port Jefferson, who is expecting a New Year's Eve sales increase of 20 percent compared with last year. "The holidays are just tremendous."

Restaurant owners and caterers say there is an air of cautious optimism and they stand to benefit because many people can afford and rationalize spending money for a night out on Long Island rather than an expensive vacation or other extravagance.

Catering has proved to be one of the largest growth sectors for Iavarone Bros., said Joe Iavarone, president of the family-owned chain of upscale markets and cafes on Long Island.

"A lot of people are tired of the recession," Iavarone said. "They realize, 'I can't go on nice vacations . . . but enough is enough. It's the holiday, and I am going to indulge a little with life's little pleasures, like food.' "

Despite expectations of higher sales on New Year's Eve, these businesses said consumers are shopping around a lot more, so they still have to be competitive with prices and services they offer. The NPD Group, a Port Washington market research firm, is forecasting restaurant visits nationwide will be down 1 percent for 2010.

Danfords has three packages, which have been selling well, Weiner said. They range from a four-course dinner and nightclub party to a package with an overnight stay.

The holiday season is always a good time for restaurants, but New Year's Eve is also an important marketing opportunity to generate third-party endorsements and business through the slow winter months, said Michael Bohlsen, co-owner of the family-run Bohlsen Restaurant Group, which includes Tellers in Islip, Verace in Islip, Beachtree in East Islip, Prime in Huntington and H2O in Smithtown. His restaurants will have regular dining until about 8:30 or 9 p.m. and then offer a fixed-price menu, a champagne toast and live music or a DJ for their final seating.

"The goal for us is to give them a night to remember; give them something to talk about so it puts us in their mind as a place to come for the whole next year," Bohlsen said.

Amagansett's Art of Eating is expecting New Year's Eve sales to be on par with last year's figure, but gone are elaborate millennium-like celebrations with raw bars of caviar, oysters, clams and shrimp, said John Kowalenko, who co-owns the event planning and catering company with his wife, Cheryl Stair. Many of his customers have opted to pick up their orders.

"I am seeing this trend that people are paying more attention to family and friends and they don't have to go out and be in the scene," Kowalenko said.

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